Fall 2023, by Meegan Brownley

Confession: My husband is a missions pastor. I feel like you need to know that before I begin because we’ve been completely and totally sold out to the Great Commission as part of our walk with the Lord for the better half of a decade now. And this complete commitment colors everything we do as a family, including, incidentally, the story I’m about to relate.

One day last fall, a sweet little email came to my inbox asking if I knew anyone who would like to host an exchange student. I leaped at the opportunity, heart singing, and daydreams abounding, despite being chin deep in cardboard boxes as I packed for a cross-country move.

The feelings of dedication must have been super-strong because I convinced my uber-practical husband (whose first response was, “You do know we’re moving, right?”). We needed to be host parents. The Lord worked it out; so, Cecilia from Italy plopped down in our brand-new house two days after the empty U-Haul had pulled away.

Her arrival started our rollercoaster ride. (Did I mention I love rollercoasters?) Two weeks in, Cecilia got to glimpse the crazy life of homeschooling three kids aged ten and under. She wasn’t sure what to make of it but piped up when I started into our Latin lessons with, “Do you need some help?” I’m fairly certain my response was along the lines of, “For the love of all things good, please! Help! Help!” Who in the world has actually learned this dead language? Not this homeschool mom. But it turns out Italians teach Latin in their public schools. Within thirty minutes, we were transported to the throne room of Julius Caesar himself. Her pronunciations, declensions, and her tips on how to remember the grammar points were great! The girl put together the puzzle pieces of how to teach Latin in a way that my expensive curriculum completely missed. I was hooked. What else could we learn?

A few weeks later, my eldest son, Kyle, decked out in war regalia and a bayonet made from a Nerf gun taped to cardboard appeared in Cecilia’s room. “A gift!” he proclaimed setting before her the Time-Life History of the WW2 Italian Campaign. I began to sweat. She looked down once, blinked, and rather than be offended, said, “Did you know that the fascists were in charge for a lot of the war? But common people like my grandma hated them and worked hard to fight to overthrow them?” She then recounted her grandma’s stories of rations and subterfuge. Afterward, she played “Bella Ciao,” the song proclaiming victory over fascism. The next time Cecilia called Nonna (her grandma), she let Kyle sing some “Bella Ciao,” and he walked away with a living hero forever imprinted in his history-loving brain.

Those were the first of many points where our school life intersected beautifully with the knowledge and wisdom of a teenage Italian. We began eating fancy bread nightly at dinner, making videos about our stylish shoe choices, and singing Italian lullabies about kitty cats.

We realized Americans eat dinner crazy early, that our public schools no longer teach out of books (gulp), and that we use a lot of sarcasm that needs explaining. We also learned that cultural exchange goes both ways, as the words “Google” and “shopping online” have been adopted by our friends in Europe.

But the sweetest part of the exchange for me was introducing Cecilia to church. The first week she attended, we sang at least three songs about “the blood of the Lamb,” and I caught myself marveling at how odd that must seem to the nominal Catholic standing beside me. We had a long conversation that day and, in the days to come, about our family’s faith. Cecilia had a lot of questions, too—about her purpose in life, where her value comes from, and the definition of success. All were questions big enough for God-sized answers. And my kids, with their childlike faith and simple speech patterns, had lots to share with her. Christianity was compelling food for thought for my best pasta-loving girl, and even now, she’s sending me messages from her homeland that show she’s marinating on those truths.

Lest you think us somehow super homeschoolers, I assure you my children have no clue how to spell their last name (because who needs to do that in homeschool?) and cannot tie their shoes (because neither Crocs nor rain boots have any laces). We are nobody special. And yet, even in the beginnings of the church, the Lord used nobody fishermen to change the world. And He used one sweet Italian girl and five months of living together to change her life and our family forever.

It was beautiful.

So, feeling like a whirlwind descended upon us with all the amazing things that happened in our home and in our homeschool last year, I’m now about the business of getting as many homeschooling families as possible to join the adventure. I’m a field manager for the nonprofit Education, Travel, and Culture student exchange. Heaps of teenage students arrive each spring and fall looking for a sweet, ordinary American family to embrace them, love them well, and send them back into the world as better people.

Could you be part of this wild missions-in-your-pajamas adventure? Could you learn that foreign language whose curriculum books are sitting dust-covered on top of your bookshelf? Could your history study come alive with a connection to real-life heroes abroad? Do you need something new to sing with the toddler at bedtime?

Join the adventure, my friend. Host an exchange student and watch the world add vibrant flavors to your homeschool this year. For more information on becoming a host family, contact Meegan at 910-915-2742 or mbrownley@edutrav.org. More details about this program can be found at http://edutrav.org.


Meegan Brownley wasn’t always going to be a homeschool mom, but when the Lord plopped her down in rural Asia for a season and her eldest flunked out of the local kindergarten, she was left with little choice. She loved it and has continued homeschooling her three children through moves to SC, NC, and MO. These days you can find Meegan and her little Brownleys carting around a passel of international teenagers to local events through her work with Education, Travel, and Culture. And you can also find her on Facebook, because she’s old like that, and wants to be your friend.